A bleak assessment from the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission: radiation from Japan’s earthquake-caused nuclear crisis is “extremely high,” rose than the Japanese government acknowledged and the outlook is ominious.
The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of threat posed by the Japanese nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than ordered by the Japanese government.
Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the commission, said in Congressional testimony that the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had boiled dry, leaving fuel rods stored there completely exposed. As a result, he said, “We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”
The details reveal how bad it is in terms of a fix:
If his analysis is accurate and Japanese workers have been unable to keep the spent fuel at that inoperative reactor properly cooled — covered with water at all times — radiation could make it difficult not only to fix the problem at reactor No. 4, but to keep workers at the Daiichi complex from servicing any of the other crippled reactors at the plant.
Mr. Jaczko said radiation levels may make it impossible to continue what he called the “backup backup” cooling functions that have so far prevented full nuclear meltdowns at the other reactors. Those efforts consist of dumping water on overheated fuel and then letting the radioactive steam vent into the atmosphere.
The emergency measures are all that has prevented the disaster at Daiichi from becoming a full blow meltdown.
Mr. Jaczko’s testimony came as the American Embassy, on advice from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told American to evacuate a radius of “approximately 50 miles” from the Fukushima plant.
The advice represents a far more grave assessment of the situation at the stricken reactors than the decisions made by the Japanese themselves, who have told everyone within 20 kilometers, about 12 miles, to evacuate, and those between 20 and 30 kilometers to take shelter. And the recommendation comes as the Japanese government has said it will be giving less information about the situation.
Meanwhile, emergency crews had to pull out:
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.